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Boston Restaurant Blog -- November, 2008

Below are blog entries from November, 2008. Use the links in the left column to do a quick search of blog entries, or to see blog entries from other months. And feel free to use the "Comments" links under each blog entry to reply to us; your comments just might end up in our Boston restaurant blog! (Note: This page is part of our restaurant features section.)

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Friday, November 28, 2008
Group Dinner at Tango Restaurant, Arlington

When Tango first opened in Arlington Center a few years ago, I wasn't sure that this Argentinian restaurant would make it. Sure, it was crowded at times, and yes, the food was very good, but it seemed just a bit invisible near the busy Mass. Avenue/Medford Street intersection where most folks are more concerned about making the light or avoiding crashing into other cars than seeing what kinds of businesses exist in the block. All of this seemed to change, however, when Tango expanded about a year ago. Now, the restaurant is about twice its original size, and the yellow sign out front seems much more prominent. And wow, are there ever crowds at this place, as we discovered on a rainy night earlier this month.

photo of Tango Restaurant, Arlington, MA The "new and improved" Tango is a bustling spot, with a number of tables tightly squeezed into both the original and new sections of the restaurant. It remains a rather dimly-lit place in spots, with some sections of the dining areas being so dark that it can be tough to read the menu. With the added space, large groups can now be accommodated fairly easily, which is one reason why we decided to come here as a group. A downside for us, however, was that they set up our large table near the entrance, and since there is really no waiting area to speak of, we had people hovering around our table for much of the night (and others had the misfortune of being half in/half out of the place in the rain while waiting to be seated). It would be nice to see Tango add some type of waiting area in the future, though perhaps there just isn't any room to do so.

Aside from the slightly frustrating seating situation we had, our dining experience at Tango was simply tremendous, with one outstanding dish after another being brought to our table. The appetizers were superb, with the squash soup having a perfect blend of spices and a nice consistency, and both the ham and cheese and steak empanadas being so tasty that I would have been happy making these as my meal. But there was more to come, with our entrees impressing pretty much everyone at our table. The flank steak (my dish) was slightly greasy and a little tough (because of the fibrous makeup of the steak, not the preparation), but it has a rich, full flavor and was made even better by the chimichurri sauce that came with it. Other dishes ordered at our table were similarly good, with the lamb chops being lean and tender, the grilled salmon with chimichurri and the grilled swordfish with spices both being fresh and well-prepared, the boneless filet of chicken being a solid, tasty dish, and the pastel de papa (a kind of Latin shepherd's pie) being hearty and nicely seasoned. And then there was the milanesa a caballo; the breaded, fried steak looked very appetizing, but to me, anyway, the fried eggs on top certainly did not. The dish was a big hit, however, though I suppose it was eaten with eyes closed. A few of us somehow still had room for dessert after our meals, and I am glad I saved a bit of room, as the "thousand sheets" puff pastry was delectable, and not overly sweet. I would definitely get it again, though the chocolate cake might have to be ordered instead next time.

So Tango was a big hit, with excellent food, good service, and moderate prices. Yes, the waiting area situation was an issue, but you can't deny the goodness of the food, which makes it no surprise that this restaurant is so crowded night after night. If you are looking to go to Tango, consider what we did and make reservations in advance.

If you would like the address for Tango in Arlington, here it is: Tango Restaurant, 464 Massachusetts Avenue, Arlington, MA, 02474. Phone: (781) 443-9000.

Related Blog Entries: Arlington restaurants

Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Food, Drink, and Fun in Chicago

After many years of trying to get to Chicago, I finally made my first trip there a few days ago. A group of us decided to head out there for several days, sticking mostly to areas north of the city and around the downtown area. And while I didn't get to sample all of the foods I wanted to (we missed out on BBQ, for instance), I was able to eat at some excellent restaurants, including the best steakhouse I've ever been to.

photo of Harry Carry's, Chicago, IL We arrived in Chicago around lunchtime on Friday, settling in to our hotel in the Near North Side of the city. From there, we walked toward downtown, arriving at Harry Caray's just after the lunchtime rush. Harry Caray's is a classic Italian steakhouse with lots of charm, especially on the bar side where we had lunch. With its tin ceiling, dark wood paneling, and old pictures on the walls, the place almost had the feel of Doyle's, the charming old restaurant and bar in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston. As soon as we sat down at Harry Caray's, we were given a dish of homemade potato chips, which were delicious (and gone in a flash). We stuck to ordering sandwiches, including a delicious panini meatball sandwich on ciabatta bread, an excellent Chicago hot dog, a decent turkey sandwich, and a tasty roast beef au jus. The beer list was excellent, and the homemade chips kept coming, filling us up so much that we had to walk it all off once we left.

photo of the Chicago Brauhaus, Chicago, IL Along our walk back to the hotel, we stopped in for a drink at Su Casa, a Mexican restaurant, and Pippin's Tavern, a tired-looking but friendly old bar that became our second home for most of the trip. After resting for awhile (and letting our food settle), we headed north to the Lincoln Square section of Chicago, where we had a late dinner at the Chicago Brauhaus, a traditional German restaurant in the heart of the neighborhood. We were seated in a small dining room off the main part of the restaurant but were close enough to hear the somewhat campy (but fun). live music coming from the main room. We started with two very large--and very tasty--pretzels that came with mustard and also ordered some rather large mugs of beer. We soon discovered that they had even larger mugs (somewhere around 32 ounces or perhaps even more), so we switched to those, enjoying a variety of excellent German beers. For our entrees we had a wiener schnitzel with spatzle (excellent breaded veal, rather bland spatzle), a couple of Vienna sausage hot dogs (decent, but not as good as the one at Harry Caray's), sauerbraten (tremendous, with outstanding gravy), and fried chicken (not all that impressive, unfortunately). We didn't leave the Brauhaus until about 11:00, and felt too full to do much other than sleep, so we hopped in a cab and headed back to the hotel.

photo of Pint, Chicago, IL After a quick, basic breakfast at L'Appetito near the hotel, we headed over to Bucktown and Wicker Park, two adjoining neighborhoods that are probably about as close to Greenwich Village or Haight-Ashbury as you will get in Chicago. We spent the morning in used record and used book shops, then wandered around a bit before stopping at a restaurant and bar called Pint for a leisurely lunch. The inside of Pint was rather charming, with brick arches, little nooks and alcoves, and large couches in the side room and the back area. We decided to sit up front where we could watch some college football while enjoying some lighter fare and pints of Harp and Boddington. Our meals were pretty good, though nothing to write home about; the BLT and the salad were pretty basic and the kobe (wagyu) burger was a bit dry and lacking in taste, though the sliders and mini ham sandwich were both tasty. We stuck around for a bit after eating to watch a little more football before heading back to the Near North Side to relax for a few hours.

photo of Carmine's, Chicago, IL Saturday night was dedicated to a late show at the Second City Theatre, so we stayed local for dinner, walking up to Carmine's on North Rush Street near the western edge of the ultra-wealthy Gold Coast district. Carmine's turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip, as the service was excellent, the covered (and heated!) patio area was very comfortable, and the food was absolutely outstanding. We started with an array of appetizers, including some delicious bruschetta, a tasty order of sausage and peppers, and (for myself) a bowl of pasta fagioli that was a bit watery, but otherwise very nice. We had some excellent beers as well, including the locally brewed Goose Island Honker's Ale. For our main dishes, we tried the vesuvius chicken (much better than the chicken at the Brauhaus the night before), a deep-dish pizza that was on special that night (a bit too cheesy, but cooked perfectly, and with a hearty, robust sauce), the chicken parmigiana (a good version of this dish), and a brick chicken (basically a whole chicken cooked with a brick on top of it). The brick chicken was quite a conversation piece, as I had never seen so much chicken on one plate in my life, but it was really was quite good. After we finished our entrees, we decided to skip dessert and waddled out to catch a cab. A quick final note: Before we went into Second City, we stopped at Corcoran's, an attractive watering hole across the street from the theatre that was brimming with character; it turned out to be a great place to grab a beer before the show.

photo of the Original Pancake House, Chicago, IL Sunday morning came rolling along, and we decided to head out for a big breakfast. A few blocks north of the hotel was the Original Pancake House, an old-fashioned looking breakfast spot that seemed intriguing, so that's where we ended up. After waiting in line for about 15 minutes in a little hallway area, we were seated and looked at the menu while soaking in the hustle and bustle of the place. We tried a bit of everything, including the silver dollar pancakes (soft, airy, and heavenly), homemade corned beef hash (a great mix of finely corned beef, potatoes, chopped onions, and seasonings), home fries with cheese on top (totally decadent, and very tasty), and enormous omelettes each with a side of buttermilk pancakes (an extremely filling dish). The bill was a bit high for breakfast, coming in at around $65 including tip, but everything was delicious and the service was quick and friendly.

photo of the Billy Goat Tavern, Chicago, IL Breakfast was followed by a trip up to Wrigleyville, where we took a quick peek at Wrigley Field (closed tight this time of year) and the commercial district of Wrigleyville, which was filled with bars and restaurants. Much of the area was quiet, but I could tell that it must be a crazy place during the baseball season. After a drink at the John Barleycorn pub (and a bit of the Bears-Packers game on TV), we headed back to the Near North Side and ended up at the Billy Goat Tavern, a basement-level greasy spoon burger joint near the Navy Pier made famous by Saturday Night Live and the "Cheeseborger Cheeseborger Cheeseborger" episode. The minute we walked in, the chef yelled "double burger" at each of us, even before we finished walking down the stairs to the place. A bit stunned, we nodded our heads and grabbed some sodas, paid for the meals, and sat down to wait for the burgers. While waiting, I took a look around at the dining area, with its photos and memorabilia covering nearly every square inch of the place, but for all its history, I had this unshakable feeling that I was in a bit of a tourist trap. The burgers soon came, and I have to admit, I wasn't all that impressed. They were decent griddled burgers, but really nothing all that special. I was glad that we got there once, anyways, but I'm not sure I'd go back.

photo of the Chicago Chop House, Chicago, IL It was our last evening in Chicago, and we saved the best for last. After getting back to the hotel and relaxing for a few hours, we took a cab ride a short distance southwest to the Chicago Chop House, a famous steakhouse in a city know for its steaks. The minute we walked in, I knew that this was going to be someplace special, as the service was top notch right from the start, the room upstairs was classy and elegant yet low-key, and the menu featured some truly mouthwatering dishes. We started with some beers (I had some more Goose Island--excellent stuff) and also had some salads, the best of which was probably the outstanding caesar salads that a couple of us had. Then came our meals, and oh what meals they were; the filet mignon was tender and juicy and cooked absolutely perfectly, the lobster tail that came with one of the filets was every bit as good as the steaks, and the lamb chops were meaty and tender, and had little waste on them. A side of potatoes came with each meal, and the house salad that I had was also included in the price of the meal, so even though the Chicago Chop House was a pretty high-end place, the prices were rather reasonable, with our total bill being about $260 or so. This was my best meal of the trip, and the steak was indeed maybe the best I've ever had.

After dinner, we had a mellow evening back at Pippin's, then called it a night. And after another trip to the Original Pancake house on Monday morning, we were soon on our way back home. It was a terrific trip; Chicago is one of America's great cities, and between the quality of the food and lodging, the beautiful neighborhoods, and the friendliness of the people, I would go back in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Great Atmosphere at the Warren Tavern, Charlestown

After many years away from the place I finally got back to the Warren Tavern in Charlestown a couple of weeks ago. Unlike in the past, when I simply went to this historic watering hole for drinks with friends, this time I actually had dinner there. And while the food was not exactly outstanding, the cozy atmosphere really made for a pleasant night.

photo of the Warren Tavern, Charlestown, MA The Warren Tavern is located near the Freedom Trail in a charming part of Charlestown that has winding narrow roads, old fashioned streetlights, and beautiful old row houses. The tavern itself was built in 1780 and it is believed that George Washington and Paul Revere were among its patrons in its early days. The building still oozes history, with beamed ceilings, dark woods, low lighting, and large fireplace reflecting its colonial roots.

The food we ordered wasn't too bad, but it didn't really stand out all that much, either. The angus beef they used for the Paul Revere Burger (swiss cheese and sauteed mushrooms) was pretty tasty, but it was a bit dry and didn't seem to be seasoned all that well, and the fries that came with the burger were just so-so. The broiled haddock (which was a special that night) was better, with fresh, flavorful fish that came with a baked potato on the side.

I love the atmosphere of the Warren Tavern and would certainly suggest it to anyone visiting Boston, just to get a sense of the city's history. But I think that for me, anyway, drinks might be the way to go at the tavern, as the food, while decent enough, seems to be average at best. On the other hand, since Charlestown doesn't have much in the way of dining options, if you are in the neighborhood and want to grab a bite to eat without heading too far outside of the area, the Warren Tavern is certainly a viable option, especially if you like standard American fare and basic pub grub.

If you would like the address for the Warren Tavern in Charlestown, here it is: Warren Tavern, 2 Pleasant Street, Charlestown, MA, 02129. Phone: (617) 241-8142.

Related Blog Entries: American restaurants, historic restaurants

Friday, November 7, 2008
Excellent Burger at Cappy's Tavern, Readville

So for many of you, even before reading this blog entry, the first thing you're wondering is, "Where exactly is Readville?" That's a good question, as many folks who have lived in the Boston area for their entire lives have never even heard of this little Boston neighborhood. And indeed, Readville feels in some ways like it is at the end of the Earth, as it is about as far from downtown Boston as you can be and still BE in Boston. And the fact that it is surrounded by parklands, factories, and water makes it a bit cut off from the rest of the city. But yes, Readville does actually exist, as does one of the only dining and drinking options in the area--a gritty working-class bar called Cappy's Tavern.

photo of Cappy's Tavern, Readville, MA Located just off the main drag in the center of Readville, Cappy's Tavern is easy to miss. From the outside, the place looks a bit tired and old (and it is indeed the latter, as it has been around since 1938), but the interior has loads of character, feeling like a mix of an Elks Lodge and a townie bar with a lot of history mixed in. From the plexiglass partition between the bar and the dining area to the old phone booth in the corner to the high wooden tables and chairs to the historic pictures on the walls to the classic old bar complete with stools and a mirror in the back, the atmosphere at Cappy's Tavern is old Boston at its best.

When we arrived at Cappy's, the only people in the place were locals who were drinking at the bar or hanging around the front of the place, so we were the only ones in the dining area. The bartender (who was gruff, funny, and very nice to us) brought menus over, even though the standard procedure is to order at the bar. We grabbed a couple of beers, then ordered potstickers for an appetizer. They were a bit hard and crunchy, and the duck sauce that came with them was something I mostly avoided, but the taste of the potstickers wasn't too bad, overall. For our meals, we had a hot pastrami sandwich and a double burger. The pastrami was fatty and greasy, but the char-grilled burgers were actually among the best I have tasted in the Boston area. The high fat content had a lot to do with it, but the combination of a perfectly seared exterior and a deliciously juicy interior also helped made these burgers just about perfect.

So should Bostonians flock to Cappy's Tavern to see what it's all about? Well, it depends; if you like burgers and don't mind hanging out in a slightly tough, old-school bar with a lot of locals, it is definitely worth a trip. But if you want food other than burgers and are looking to drink microbrewed beers, you might want to look elsewhere. Personally, I have spent a lot of time in places like Cappy's, so it feels comfortable to me, but my guess is, not everyone would feel that way. So in short, I would give Cappy's a mixed grade from an objective point of view, but personally, I can easily see myself returning to this comfy old salt-of-the-Earth place whenever I'm in or near Readville.

If you need the address for Cappy's Tavern in Readville, here it is: Cappy's Tavern, 11 Wolcott Court, Readville, MA, 02136. Phone: (617) 364-9292.

Related Blog Entries: Boston bars, hamburgers

Saturday, November 1, 2008
Friday Night Eats at Bison County, Waltham

Bison County is one of those places that I have been to a thousand times, and yet have no real opinion on it. I suppose that's because nearly every time I've had a meal there, it seemed good but not great. I've never had a bad meal at Bison County, but the restaurant has never bowled me over, either. But I continue to go, mainly because the comfortable, laid back atmosphere makes it a great place to meet up with friends and catch up on things. And that is exactly what we did a few weeks ago on a beautiful Friday evening that almost made we wish that the restaurant had outdoor dining.

photo of Bison County, Waltham, MA Bison County is located in the heart of "restaurant row" on Moody Street near the Charles River. It is easy to overlook, partly because there are so many other restaurants on Moody, and partly because driving on Moody Street often requires much concentration, making it (and many other places on the street) nearly invisible to drivers. But the inside of Bison County is nice, with a rather industrial yet oddly rustic feel with exposed brick, a well-worn floor, and overhead lights that hang from a dark ceiling. The front of Bison County includes a roomy bar area while the back is mostly for diners. A number of different-sized booths and tables in both the bar area and the main dining section to accommodate both big and small groups looking to pig out on barbecue.

On our recent trip to Bison County we had a moderately large group, but not so big that we couldn't fit at one of the tables in the bar area. We started with a variety of beers and mixed drinks, then ordered a plate of pretty good nachos before working our way into the entrees. I ended up getting the Texas-style pulled pork, which was decent though not outstanding. This dish is different from the North Carolina pulled pork in that it is tomato-based (rather than vinegar-based), and while I did like my meal I think I prefer North Carolina pulled pork better. Others at the table mostly ordered ribs, and they did seem to like them a lot. While I was there, I noticed a few items on the menu that I wanted to try but would have to wait on, including a catfish nugget appetizer, sweet corn fritters, and a Southwest pasta bowl, none of which I have had there.

All in all, it was another satisfying meal at Bison County, though I do prefer Blue Ribbon BBQ in Arlington (I actually prefer it to all other BBQ joints in the Boston area, for that matter). But it is a great place to hang out with friends, and parking, while sometimes difficult, isn't as bad as you might think, even on a Friday night. It might not be a hidden gem, but Bison County isn't all that bad, either.

If you would like the address for Bison County in Waltham, here it is: Bison County, 275 Moody Street, Waltham, MA, 02453. Phone: (781) 642-9720.

Related Blog Entries: barbecue joints, Waltham restaurants